California Foster Youth Score Well Below Peers on Standardized Tests

According to newly available data released last week, California’s foster youth are lagging far behind other public school students when it comes to test scores.

For the first time, the California Department of Education (CDE) released test scores for the nearly 70,000 foster youth in the state’s public schools as a result of the state’s Local Control Funding Formula. The law mandated higher funding for school districts with greater numbers of high-needs students such as foster youth, English language learners and low-income students.

The law also requires the state to collect information about the performance of foster youth on annual state testing.

The results show a wide gap between foster youth and other students in public schools in California.

In the 2014-2015 school year, the percentage of foster youth in the state who did not meet educational standards in testing was nearly double that of other youth. For mathematics, 64 percent of foster students did not meet standards. That compares with 37.3 percent of non-foster students in California.

In English language arts, more than 56 percent of foster youth did not meet state standards, well above the nearly 31 percent of other youth in the state who also did not reach the same threshold.

Only about 4 percent of foster youth in California public schools surpassed standards on testing in English language arts, compared with 16.3 percent of other students. When it came to mathematics, 2.5 percent of foster students bettered state standards on testing; 14.3 percent of non-foster students in the state also achieved the same rating.

Jill Rowland, director of the education program at the Los Angeles-based Alliance for Children’s Rights, said that the release of data about test scores in the state offers hard proof of the persistent educational barriers faced by foster youth, something that advocates have long seen up close.

Chief among the challenges facing foster youth in schools is the high number of placements they experience. When foster youth move to a new placement with a foster family, group home or a living arrangement with a relative, it often means changing schools and falling behind in school.

“The average number of times a child in care changes school is eight times, and that’s four to six months of their education that might be missed with every change,” Rowland said. “The impact of that is academic, social and emotional.”

Rowland said that the educational success of many foster youth is hampered by longstanding trauma caused by being separated from parents and siblings in the foster care system. System failures — such as scant policies and resources aimed at foster youth — have often made it more difficult for these youth to learn and to graduate from high school.

But she added that the newly available data provides an important opportunity to address the needs of a group that has not always been studied well.

“Really looking at foster youth as a separate group, with separate needs, is really important,” Rowland said.

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